By Lenie Lectura - May 4, 2017
THE Department of Energy (DOE) assured on Thursday that the regulatory body of the power sector would continue to function and adhere to its mandate, amid the suspension order against the chairman of the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC).
The ERC, meanwhile, acknowledged the receipt of a copy of the suspension order against Salazar, and confirmed that the commissioners have nominated an officer in charge (OIC). “We confirm the receipt of the preventive suspension [from Malacañang] order early this morning,” ERC Spokesman Atty. Rexie Digal said. “The commission held a special commission meeting today, and they [the commissioners have] agreed to nominate Commissioner Alfredo Non as OIC. The nomination will be forwarded to the Office of the Executive Secretary on Thursday for consideration and appropriate action,” she said.
“The ERC is strong. It will run. What we are planning to do is to have regular meetings with regard to updating the status of work and how we can assist the ERC,” Energy Undersecretary William Felix William B. Fuentebella said.
Malacañang announced late on Wednesday that it has placed ERC Commissioner Jose Vicente B. Salazar under a 90-day preventive suspension effective immediately.
Salazar, who is facing administrative charges, expressed concern with regard to the order that was issued by the Office of the Executive Secretary.
“While I view the said order with some concern, still, I am grateful for the opportunity to take a breather from work. I shall use the time to be with my family and to attend to my personal concerns,” he said in a text message.
Salazar is facing charges of serious dishonesty, gross neglect of duty, grave misconduct and gross insubordination, among various administrative offenses. He was also linked to the death of ERC Director Francisco Villa, who took his own life last November 9. Suicide notes written three months ago indicate that he could no longer handle the pressure from Salazar.
“My greatest fear in the bids and awards committee is the AVP [audio-visual presentation] by Luis Morelos, which the chairman and CEO, Jose Vicente B. Salazar, chose through a rigged selection system. That will be a criminal act,” Villa stated in his letters.
But the suspension stemmed from the complaint against Salazar last month of deceiving Malacañang in filing his travel authority and designating somebody without proper authority as OIC while he was abroad.
Salazar was given 10 days to file his comment or written explanation with regard to the administrative charges. If proven guilty of the charges, Salazar can be removed from office.
Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi said the preventive suspension is yet another example that there are no “sacred cows” in the Duterte administration.
While preventive in nature and not yet a penalty, the suspension of Salazar should pave the way for an impartial and objective investigation of corruption allegations raised against him, Cusi said.
“As the President has said, tabla-tabla tayo when it comes to dealing with corruption allegations. Allergic ang Pangulo sa kurapsyon, so it’s not enough not to be tainted—one must also be perceived to be clean,” Cusi said. Nonetheless, he added, any and all investigations are also avenues for the accused to clear their names.
Cusi said the rule of law must always prevail, and gave special mention to the equal protection of the law clause of the Constitution when it comes to facing criminal, civil or administrative charges.
“I expect fair treatment of all officers and workers in the government,” Cusi said. “The suspension is a means to give way to a fair investigation of the issues being thrown at Chairman Salazar. ”